American Institute of Architects

Monday, January 11, 1999

I am here today to announce a bold new initiative to support America’s communities in their goals of growing according to their best values. It is an initiative that will help us build more livable communities in which to raise our families -- places where young and old can walk, bike, and play together; places where we not only protect historic old neighborhoods, but where farms, green spaces, and forests can add life and beauty to the newest of suburbs; places where we can work competitively, and still spend less time in traffic and more time -- that most precious of commodities for the families we really are -- with our children, our spouses, our friends.

Across America, we are discovering that livable communities -- places with a high quality of life -- are more economically competitive communities. That may be why Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Solow calls livability "an economic imperative."

The way we build and develop determines whether economic growth comes at the expense of community and family life, or enhances it. Now, we have seen a new vision of how to build and plan better -- so that a strong economy energizes the strong neighborhoods that support strong families. By helping communities pursue smarter growth, we can build an America for our children that is not just better off -- but better.

This particular building -- the American Institute of Architects -- is a suitable setting for presenting this important issue. You have often, through the years, been the keepers of an American treasure we are only beginning fully to appreciate: the architecture of community. At our best in America, we have built for people gathering together: from the open village greens of our serene old New England towns, to the mixed-use downtowns of our most vibrant cities, to the leafy beauty of a safe, well-thought-out suburb -- our architects and developers have a rich tradition of building in ways that have enhanced civic life and family well-being.

There is now a resurgence of interest in this kind of building for people. Better planning is moving, in a grassroots way, from community activists to local zoning board members to visionary retail and residential developers. All of these Americans are putting together parts of a bigger picture -- a way of life in which economic dynamism, green spaces, and friendly civic streets all coexist. Some call it the movement for "livability."

You know just how important this movement is -- and I know that is why AIA started its exciting new Center for Livable Communities just three months ago, to help communities with their growth strategies. In too many places across America, the beauty of local vistas has been degraded by decades of ill-planned and ill-coordinated development. Plan well, and you have a community that nurtures commerce and private life. Plan badly, and you have what so many of us suffer from first-hand: gridlock, sprawl, and that uniquely modern evil of all-too-little time.

Frank Lloyd Wright once said that a doctor can bury his mistakes -- but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.

If only it were that simple to remedy the mistakes that decades of bad zoning and planning have imposed on our cities, suburbs, and natural landscapes.

The problems? In many older communities, walkable main streets have emptied out, leaving a nighttime vacuum filled with crime and disorder. As I noted at the Brookings Institution last summer, the sprawl that has developed around our cities has transformed easy suburbs into lonely cul-de-sacs, so distant from commercial centers that if a family wants an affordable house, a commuting parent often gets home too late to read a child a bedtime story. Even worse, after all those hours stuck in traffic, the freedom of the open road can explode into commuting-induced road rage.

Development has become something to be opposed instead of welcomed; people move out to the suburbs to make their lives, only to find they are playing leapfrog with bulldozers. They long for amenities that are not eyesores -- just as they long to give their kids the experience of a meadow, that child’s paradise, left standing at the end of a street. Many communities have no sidewalks -- and nowhere to walk to, which is bad for public safety as well as for our nation’s physical health. It has become impossible in such settings for neighbors to greet one another on the street, or for kids to walk to their own nearby schools. A gallon of gas can be used up just driving to get a gallon of milk. All of these add up to more stress for already overstressed family lives.

This kind of sprawl is harder on families than just the long drive to work and back; it means working families must sink thousands of dollars into extra commuting costs, when they may want the choice of devoting those funds to a year of state college. It means that people leaving welfare and eager to work have no way to get to where their new job is, and still pick up a child in day care. It means that resources are siphoned away from older neighborhoods to build ever more distant new amenities in new communities. It means that air and water quality go down, and taxes go up. We can do better.

And we are -- guided by our citizens. The good news is that many communities are coming together -- from families to local activists to mayors and county executives -- to craft solutions. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. In Sacramento, townspeople and developers reclaimed an old brownfields site and turned it into a thriving residential community. In Denver, the community is converting the old runways of Stapleton Airport into an appealing new neighborhood with open spaces.

In Portland, I helped dedicate the new light rail system -- already beloved by its users. It is easing traffic congestion, and building a Portland with, in the locals’ own words, "fewer arteries and more heart."

This truly is a movement. In the 1998 election, more than 200 communities discussed -- and the vast majority adopted -- measures to manage sprawl and enhance local livability.

The time has come to learn from this citizen ingenuity and apply it to a bigger canvas. In the metropolitan Atlanta region, the average working parent has to drive 34 miles a day. Taken all together, metropolitan Atlantans are literally commuting long enough every day to reach the sun. Atlanta is growing so far toward Chattanooga, and Chattanooga toward Atlanta, that the joke is that the two will merge into a huge, uninterrupted expanse of development called Chatlanta -- or perhaps Atlantanooga. Fortunately, metropolitan Atlanta is now coming together to seek a better way. And Chattanooga has long since become a national and world leader in focussing its energies on smarter growth.

Of course, the federal government’s role should never be that of beauty commissar. It is not appropriate for us to get into the business of local land use planning. But it is our job to work with states, such as Governor Glendening’s Maryland, to support their remarkable smart growth efforts. It our job to amplify citizens’ voices, and make it easier for communities to get their hands on the tools they need to build the way they want. It is our job to keep learning from community successes, and do what we can to support them.

At its heart, this is about seeing the practical wisdom that lets us leave behind false choices. It need not be citizens versus developers, business versus the environment, cities and suburbs versus meadows and farmlands. When we see our connectedness and craft solutions for the common good, we see that the right solutions are good for business, as well as for the environment and for families.

The regions that have embraced livability have learned that it doesn’t just generate common sense -- it generates dollars and cents too. Companies such as Intel and Hewlett Packard can go anywhere. As livable communities have learned to their joy, they go where the quality of life is high, because that is where qualified people want to live.

Today, I am proud to take the first big step in this effort by launching our new Livability Agenda for the 21st Century -- to help communities have the tools and resources they need to preserve green spaces, ease traffic congestion, promote regional cooperation, improve schools, and enhance economic competitiveness.

First, I am pleased to announce that in the budget we will submit to Congress next month, we are proposing $700 million in new tax credits for state and local bonds to build more livable communities. These new "Better America Bonds" will help communities reconnect to the land and water around them, preserve open spaces for future generations, build and renovate parks, improve water quality, and enhance economic competitiveness by redeveloping old factories known as Brownfields. We estimate that this proposal will leverage nearly $10 billion of investments in our communities over the next five years -- and will go a long way toward preserving a high quality of life across America.

Second, we are taking new steps to ease traffic congestion so parents can spend more time with their kids and less time stuck behind a steering wheel. Last year, President Clinton gave communities unprecedented new opportunities to invest in mass transit and reduce traffic congestion. Today, we are proposing the single highest investment in public transit in history -- $6.1 billion to help communities develop alternatives to building more clogged highways. We are also proposing a record $1.6 billion for state and local efforts to reduce air pollution and ease traffic congestion.

Third, we are taking new steps to promote regional cooperation, so entire regions work together for smart growth and competitiveness. Issues like traffic, air pollution, and jobs don’t recognize defined borders, and neither should our solutions. To promote cooperation among neighboring communities, we are proposing a new $50 million Regional Connections initiative -- to aid in the development of truly regional game plans for smarter growth.

Finally, we are proposing targeted initiatives to help communities meet the new challenges of growth in the 21st Century. In our grandparents’ day, schools and civic buildings were proud local showpieces, and anchorstones for the architecture of community. At a time when too many schools are arbitrarily built in the middle of cornfields, away from the center of communities, we are proposing a $10 million grant program to encourage school districts to involve the whole community in planning and designing new schools -- a project the AIA will be closely involved in as well. We are proposing nearly $40 million to provide communities with easy-to-use information and technical assistance to develop strategies for smarter growth. And since livable communities must be safe communities, we are proposing $50 million to promote the sharing of crime-data across jurisdictions, to track down criminals who cross state lines.

With the steps we are announcing today, we are taking citizens’ concerns to the top of the national agenda. With this, which is by far the single largest investment in smart growth and sound community planning in America's history -- we will help you build what we hear you are asking for, and what is no less than you and your families deserve: livable communities, comfortable suburbs, vibrant cities, and, for your grandchildren’s well-being and for their grandchildren's too, green spaces all around and in between. Thank you all.

Clinton-Gore Livability Agenda

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